Showroom Seminar: On the Border: Enter Decorative Tile Territory to Capture New Customers
March 2nd, 2008

March-April 2008

By Kathleen Furore

Remember the days when most customers wanted white-tiled shower stalls and unadorned backsplashes?

Not anymore! Glass starfish tiles accent modern bathrooms, hand-painted stone and bronze listellos frame still life kitchen wall murals, and ceramic floor medallions create interest in entrance halls.

Today’s homeowners prefer products that add a custom look—a touch of personality—to kitchens, baths and other areas of their homes. Consequently, dealers who want to capture a larger market share are adding listellos, borders and decorative accent tiles to attract design-savvy customers.

“Homeowners are looking for unique, out-of-the-ordinary accents to incorporate into their projects in order to customize their homes and ‘notch up’ the level of design,” reports Jay Gibson, president of Metaphor Bronze, the company that introduced the art of bronze tile to the American market in 1997. “Accent and trim tiles can elevate a simple design into an extraordinary one.”

With the housing market’s demise, more and more owners are opting to “elevate” existing homes—a fact that is boosting interest in decorative tiles. “With the slow-down in home sales recently, there has been a resurgence of remodeling. Instead of buying a new home, owners are redoing bathrooms and kitchens to refresh their surroundings,” notes Dan Traynor, owner of Scottsdale-based Arizona Hot Dots, whose company designs and produces hand-made accent tiles and design elements in pewter, bronze, glass, and stone.

Adding Accents Adds Profits
Because customers want more options than ever before, offering a broad inventory of glass, metal, ceramic and stone decorative pieces gives dealers a competitive edge in a very competitive market. After all, why would customers who want to enhance a new shower with blue bubble glass or a backsplash with pewter inserts buy the main tile from you if they have to order the accent tiles from another shop?

“Decorative items like these are a very important component of the sale. Dealers can use them to draw all project materials together in a design for the customer in a more effective way than the competition,” says Oliver Motschmann, division president of Largo, Florida-based StudioTiles LLC, a distributor and manufacturer of listellos and other decorative tiles including floor medallions and hand-painted borders. “Price is always a factor. But in the end, design and material selection and the composition of the two are the primary reasons customers buy from one retailer over another. Listellos are a big component in this equation.”

They are also a big component in the equation that adds up to increased profits. “Virtually every tile installation is an opportunity for tile dealers to include specialty accents and add to their bottom-line profit,” Traynor says. “Typically we see a markup of double the wholesale price. For example, our two-inch pewter accents wholesale at $9.95 and retail at $18.00 to $22.00.”

Adds Gibson: “Offering borders and accents to complement field tile exponentially increases design possibilities and adds value to the customer’s order. The mark-up on art tile is the same, but since the base price is greater, profits per piece are greater. Most importantly, a tile showroom that displays high-end accent tiles attracts a higher-end customer who is likely to place a larger order.”

Tracking Trends
With so many materials to choose from, how can you select the types of accent tiles to inventory—the glass, metal or stone offerings that will be most popular with your customers and add value to their orders? The answer depends, at least in part, on your location and the types of installations in which the tile will be used, industry experts say.

While demand for specific tile materials fluctuates from year to year, Motschmann sees stone declining slightly after being strong for many years. “Demand for stone is by no means dead or dying, but the demand for glass, metal, and even ceramic materials is on the rise,” he says. “Metal is increasingly in demand for both the residential and commercial markets.”

Barbara Briskin, national sales manager at Emenee—a Bronx, New York-based decorative hardware and tile manufacturer that offers glass mosaic, metal and even leather tiles—also reports an upswing in the desire for metal accents. But she says interest varies from region to region. “The metropolitan markets understand metal and have used it for years. In secondary markets, the demand for metals is just now starting to spike,” she notes.

Traynor finds that metal is used more regularly in kitchen backsplashes, while glass is favored in bathroom installations. “Stone and ceramic continue to be the standard because of wide selection and versatility,” he says.

Yet as popular as these decorative tiles have become, the cost of tiling an entire surface in pewter, bronze, glass or high-end stone can be an expensive proposition many homeowners simply can’t afford. That fact is driving demand for incorporating creative listellos and accent tiles with other tiles—an approach that adds personality and pizzazz without breaking a customer’s budget.

It’s a trend known as mixed media installation—using two or more materials together in a space—and it’s one of today’s hottest trends. “Using listellos is certainly one of the most effective and least expensive ways for customers to personalize a mixed media installation,” Motschmann explains. “They are usually the smallest and therefore least profitable overall component of the tile project, and are sometimes not the primary focus of retail. But the demand from customers to incorporate a level of personalization in their space is certainly consistent if not on the rise, and listellos are one of the ways they can reach some manner of personalization.”

All types of art tiles “may be used sparingly to notch up the design of a project with a limited budget,” Gibson concurs. “Some customers will tile a whole backsplash with bronze, others will add a few accent pieces for interest.”

Economical art tiles do exist, Briskin notes. But she admits that tiling an entire backsplash or wall exclusively in metal, for example, becomes costly. “It’s also an aesthetic issue,” she notes. “Metal just looks better as an accent or a trim. You can add a real richness to your installation using metals. It’s an element that brings extra added style, texture and warmth to any installation.”

Merchandising Matters
Whatever lineup of listellos, decorative and accents tiles you choose, it will take more than pulling specialty tile catalogs from behind the counter to guarantee your success in selling these add-on items. The experts interviewed had the same advice: Show actual product and offer design ideas to up-sell customers.

“There is no substitute for having samples in the showroom to put in front of customers,” Traynor of Arizona Hot Dots stresses. “People will buy what they see, and being able to physically touch a sample creates a connection between the customer and the product.”

“Always show complete designs of the various materials and listellos you want to sell together on a concept board to help customers visualize the installation. It makes the end sale much easier,” StudioTiles’ Motschmann says.

“Show a customer how they can add a ‘finishing touch’ to their installation and a light bulb goes off!” Customers want someone to hold their hands through the process and give them great design ideas, too,” Emenee’s Briskin concludes.

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